Why does Britain love pasta?
Nigella Lawson likes it slathered in Marmite and goes for a cheeky translation of it ‘alla puttanesca’; Rick Stein’s keen on carbonara (the classic Italian version without cream); while Nigel Slater makes it with a mean mustardy sausage sauce. Yes we’re talking pasta. How on earth did we ever cope without the stuff?
Pasta has arguably been in Britain longer than you might think. Indeed the UK can lay claim to lasagne – it seems the court of Richard II was making it back in the 14th Century (and just for the record Marco Polo did NOT bring it back to Italy from China). However its current omnipresence would have shocked previous generations of home-cooks. It’s even starting to be produced in this country: durum wheat, its key ingredient, is now being made in Cornwall.
Many of our everyday pasta dishes have become almost unrecognisable from original Italian versions - good old pub lasagne and chips, macaroni cheese and spag bol to name a few. Many British chefs from Elizabeth David to Delia Smith have championed simple Italian pasta dishes, but in recent years we’ve seen the Jamie Oliver effect with his endless ‘pukka pastas’.
So why do Britons love pasta so much? It’s versatile: tomatoey or creamy sauces can create the base to all kinds of different dishes. Dried pasta has a long-shelf life and often makes the most of other storecupboard ingredients like tinned tomatoes, olives, anchovies, chorizo or frozen peas.
Pasta’s cheap (even with recent price rises), quick, easy to make in bulk and a crowd-pleaser that kids generally love, so perfect for time-pressed parents. There are endless variations and plenty of vegetarian options. But pasta doesn’t just have to be for speedy mid-week dinners: making pasta dough by hand is quicker than making your own bread - you just need to get yourself a pasta machine. This side of our love affair with pasta isn’t about convenience; here we’re reaching out for a little Italian romance and sunshine into our kitchens.
What’s your favourite pasta recipe? Are you stuck on studenty pasta bakes or Ready Steady Cook-style meaty suppers? Why do you think the British love pasta so much?
Ramona Andrews is the host of the BBC Food Q&A blog and messageboard.